By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 31, 2017 at 9:02 AM

Now more than ever – having reached a low point in the cycle of independent bookselling, in terms of the number of bookshops making important work available – The Pitch Project Artist Book Fair is an exciting development.

Co-organized by a pair of artists – Sonja Thomsen and Grant Gill – the fair coincides with Mariela Sancari's "Moisés/Landscape" photography exhibition and Sue Lawton’s "Archetypes & Iterations" at The Pitch Project, 706 S. 5th St.

On Saturday, Feb. 4, the hive of artists – 20 studios are located in The Pitch Project, which also has a gallery – hosts the fair, with artists' books, catalogs, monographs, periodicals and ‘zines from more than two dozen indie presses, artists, universities and collectives from 10 cities. The fair runs from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., with a keynote lecture by Sancari slated for 4-5 p.m.

"We try and organize one major program for every exhibition we host at TPP," says Thomsen. "At The Pitch Project, we have a lot going on at once. The complex brings in national and international artists to Milwaukee, an art/beer LOUNGE that features local artists, communal spaces that are used for events as rentals or internally for artists to host events, as all of this is attached to Brenner Brewing next door."

The brewery’s Mike Brenner founded the project, says Thomsen, with a mission "for people to come for the beer and have an unexpected experience with art." Artists began moving into the building in late 2013 and, by the following spring, it launched its debut show.

"As of last summer, we moved our gallery and started the LOUNGE, which is a shared space with Brenner Brewing and features only local artists that Mike Brenner commissions to make his beer labels," says Thomsen. "With the new changes in the space and an opportunity to connect people to artists both locally and nationally, simultaneously, we thought that the Artist Book Fair could do just that."

When Thomsen discovered Sancari’s work during a trip to Madrid, she became intrigued and wanted to bring the photographer to TPP.

"She and I are both members of an international collective titled Piece of Cake," she says. "I was immediately fascinated with her book – its form, the process of making it and the searching in vain that happens in the project.

"Because we were bringing Mariela into town we wanted to create an event that would also attract like minded artists and enthusiasts about artist books. The LOUNGE exhibition features Milwaukee’s own Sue Lawton, a printmaker, storyteller and creator of amazing books."

Among the vendors are sellers from New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Richmond, Oakland, New Haven and, of course, Milwaukee. A complete list of vendors and where they are based can be found here.

"There are several photography-specific vendors at the fair that feature work being made on an international scale," says Thomsen. "The fair also has a focus on featuring the vibrant art community and presses here in Milwaukee. With the invitations to participate, Grant and I were interested in working with presses or collectives from other cities that either have roots in the Midwest, or have direct connections to Milwaukee.

"We want to facilitate an event for the Milwaukee book/zine/art community, creating connections to those that are just slightly out of arms reach. Hopefully the connections and conversations had during the event will bring together groups of people that may be unaware of each other."

The fair is free and open to all. Items are priced around $10 and up, and most vendors will accept credit cards. Brenner Brewing next door will offer $2 off pints of Star Baby IPA in honor of Lawton’s exhibition. Lawton designed the beer’s label.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.